The Hot Coffee Case: When McDonald’s got sued over coffee!!

How many times do you drop by at McDonald’s to grab your daily dose of coffee? It seems perfectly alright to get a cup of coffee quickly before heading back to work, right?

However for Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico things didn’t go as smooth as that, and this led to one of the most notorious and frivolous lawsuits in history. The woman ended up suing McDonald’s over spilled hot coffee!


Back in 1994, the 79 year old Liebeck was sitting in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car when she ordered a coffee at McDonald’s. After receiving her order, she asked her grandson to pull over to get some extra cream and sugar added to her drink.

Unfortunately while removing the lid from the cup, she ended up spilling the coffee on her lap. The drink immediately seeped through her sweatpants causing her severe third-degree burns on about 6% of her body including her thighs, buttocks and genitals!

After being hospitalized for six weeks and undergoing numerous surgeries that took more two years to heal completely, Liebeck made a claim for $20,000 from McDonald’s asking them to compensate for the medical expenses. However, the fast food chain refused to make any settlement which led to additional lawsuits.

The jury supported Liebeck, rewarding her with $16,000 from McDonald’s on discovering that there were at least 700 similar cases of people having suffered severe burns from McDonald’s coffee. However the jury also ruled that 20% of the fault was on the lady’s part.

While people generally consume coffee at 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, McDonald’s was serving coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more likely to cause severe injuries than coffees from any other food joint. The jury in fact also included a whopping $2.7 million as punitive charges.

However both the parties settled for a confidential amount before the appeal was decided and apparently McDonald’s even got down the temperature of their coffee to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

In June 2011, HBO even featured a documentary called “Hot Coffee” analyzing the depths of the Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s lawsuit.

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